Easyjet predicts ‘huge impact’ on UK air travel when work from home restrictions eased as summer travel boom forecast

The impending easing of work from home restrictions in Scotland will have a “huge impact” on UK air travel such as business trips to London, Scotland’s biggest airline has told The Scotsman.

Easyjet said it had also seen signs people plan to take two holidays this year “to make up for lost time” after Covid halted much foreign travel over the past two summers.

The carrier, which flies more passengers to and from Scotland than any other airline, predicted reducing work from home restrictions would trigger a resumption of the past large-scale commuting between Scotland and London – Edinburgh and Glasgow’s busiest air route.

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However, environmental campaigners said it would be a “disaster for the climate” and called for a switch to rail.

London has traditionally been the busiest air route from Scotland. Picture: Ben Queenborough/PinPep

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has signalled plans for a hybrid approach to allow at least a partial return to offices from next week after the UK Government scrapped work from home guidance in England last week.

Easyjet UK country manager Ali Gayward said: "We have seen a relaxation at the England end, but are waiting to see what happens with Scotland because I think that will have a huge impact on domestic travel demand.

"We still have got that little bit of a lag because of the Scottish restrictions, but as soon as people are able to come back to work, that will make a big impact on our domestic services.

"We're waiting with bated breath to see quite what the response is for the relaxation of work from home restrictions.

"We would see an awful lot of regular commuters travel from Scotland to London every week, or down to the south west or even over to Northern Ireland.

"A large proportion of our flying from Scotland to London is those weekly commuters, who typically tend to live in Scotland, but work in places like Canary Wharf, such as in financial services.

"Banks and financial services are asking their employees to come back now."

Ms Gayward said air travel was “much more convenient” for such regular trips because of shorter journey times.

She said EasyJet was the first European airline to offset the carbon emissions of all flights, while its business customers had a new focus on their carbon footprints.

Ms Gayward also expected a big resurgence of holiday travel and predicted the airline carrying as many passengers this summer as in 2019.

In a sign of EasyJet’s optimism, the airline plans to fly a record 66 routes from Scotland this summer – five more than in 2019, and compared to 55 in 2020 and 54 in 2021.

New routes include Edinburgh to Rhodes and Malaga, but several have been withdrawn, such as Edinburgh to Bilbao and Verona.

Spanish and Portuguese destinations are expected to be the most popular.

Ms Gayward: “We feel very confident the worst of the pandemic is behind us now.

"We’re really positive about how next summer is looking.

"People are suggesting they probably want to have at least two holidays this year to make up for lost time.”

The airline’s passenger numbers have nosedived because of the pandemic, from 96.1 million in its October 2018-September 2019 financial year to 48.1m the following year and 20.4m in the year to last September.

However, Ms Gayward said despite its first annual losses – totalling £2.4 billion over the past two years – summer 2022 would not be make or break should a further Covid variant trigger new travel restrictions.

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She said: “We have done a huge amount to raise funds through the sale and leaseback of aircraft, so we have access to about £4.4bn of liquidity [cash/readily convertible to cash].

"Through our very measured approach throughout the pandemic, we have ensured the flying we are doing is profitable rather than just adding capacity [extra flights] for the sake of it and operating unprofitable flights.

"We have been really, really measured in this to ensure there is no crisis point.”

Sustainable transport campaigners Transform Scotland said business-related flying should be restricted to “exceptional circumstances”.

Director Colin Howden said: “A return to commuting by air from Scotland to London might be good for EasyJet’s profits, but it’d be a disaster for the climate.

"Flying is the most polluting form of transport, and these are precisely the sorts of trips that need to be transferred from air to rail.

“There also needs to be a focus on replacing unnecessary air travel with digital connectivity.

"The experience of remote and distributed working during the pandemic has demonstrated the potential of this alternative and has substantially increased its acceptability.

"The climate crisis dictates that all Scottish employers who hope to enhance their environmental credentials should be instructing their employees to avoid flying except in exceptional circumstances."

A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said: “The travel and tourism sectors have been severely impacted by the pandemic and it’s important to realise their importance to the economy by looking beyond just holidays. It’s also about reconnecting with family and friends, and travelling to or for work.

“Working from home has restricted domestic travel, and although we do see a hybrid future of home and office working, clearly the lifting of such restrictions will benefit the market.

"The resumption of safe travel is extremely important to the economy and its recovery and we hope our governments are formulating plans to aid that recovery.”

AGS Airports, which owns Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports, said recovery would take some time.

Its spokesperson said: “Domestic connectivity is of vital importance to our airports and accounts for approximately 50 per cent of our overall passenger numbers.

“With a total value estimated to be worth £15bn and £4bn to both the UK and Scottish economies respectively, domestic travel will play a critical role in our ongoing recovery.

“Any further relaxation of restrictions won’t see an instant increase in domestic travel as we firmly believe a return to pre-pandemic domestic passenger numbers will be measured in years.”

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